Women have been hit disproportionately hard by the coronavirus pandemic and are suffering more violence, abuse, self-harm and inequality, a report has found.
Bristol Women’s Commission says Covid-19 has “amplified” existing injustices between genders, especially among Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and disabled females.
Yet women make up most of the key workforce on the front line against the virus and will be the “backbone” of the recovery. Delivering the commission’s annual report to a Bristol City Council full council meeting, chairwoman Penny Gane said the gains made over the last decade were in danger of being undone.
She also said the local authority’s licensing committee was “dragging its heels” over a tougher policy on sexual entertainment venues which was making the city less safe for women and “undermining the positive equalities work of the rest of the council”.
Gane told the remote meeting on Tuesday, November 10: “It has been a year of huge upheaval for the women of Bristol. More women were victims of violence and abuse, more women’s jobs were put at risk, women took on a disproportionate level of the domestic burden and a largely female workforce continues to work in the high-risk occupations of adult social care and nursing.
“We are all aware of the shocking rise in domestic violence and abuse during the pandemic. Many women will be dreading the current lockdown with few opportunities to leave the house to escape their abuser or even access help. Some of our most marginalised women are finding it almost impossible to access mental health services.
“We see women still being exploited in SEVs (sexual entertainment venues) making the city less safe for all women, yet the council’s licensing committee has been dragging its heels now for four long years in reviewing its policy, missing its original deadline of May 2017 by three-and-a-half years.
“The women’s commission has provided well-documented research on many occasions alongside the submissions and objections from key agencies, including the police and crime commissioner, and yet no progress has been made. In effect you have one committee of the council undermining the positive equalities work of the rest of the council. That can’t make sense.”
Conservative councillor Claire Hiscott said: “Women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, yet their role in fighting the virus has been huge – 77 per cent of the NHS workforce are women.
“The commission’s report notes women are more likely to be furloughed but less likely to have their wages topped up by employers compared to men. All its recommendations should be taken on board by all Bristol employers and key decision-makers.”
Green councillor Fi Hance said: “This report makes for sobering reading. What is clear is that women continue to be vulnerable to insecure employment, full pay and other employment related problems that have existed for far too long.
“They continue to face childcare problems which men are spared, they continue to care in the home, and childcare is still seen as being a women’s issue rather than a family one or one that wider society needs to take responsibility for. What is heartening in this report is the series of recommendations that attempt to hold back the continuing tide of disadvantage that women face.”
Lib Dem councillor Mark Wright said: “How we remove barriers in the way of women rebuilding their jobs and careers over the coming years is absolutely critical to the wider national recovery.”
Labour cabinet member and cabinet member for women, families and homes, Helen Godwin said she agreed with Gane’s comments on sexual entertainment venue, while mayor Marvin Rees said the situation was “incredibly disappointing”.
He said work to narrow the council’s gender pay gap meant it was now four per cent, much lower than other organisations.
“We have made some headway but let’s never kid ourselves that just because we’re seen as a politically progressive city that we are free of inequalities,” Rees said. ‘They are baked into our machinery and our systems which makes them all the harder to tackle.
“This depression coming our way is going to hit those most marginal to the economy first and hardest and then they’re going to be least well placed to benefit from any economic upturn, and women – and women of colour – will be disproportionately among those on the receiving end of that.”
Adam Postans is a local democracy reporter for Bristol.
Main photo: Bristol Women’s Commission
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